— The Erimtan Angle —

‘Turkish police use tear gas and water cannons to try to break up a demonstration by tens of thousands of pro-secular protesters, but the march to mark the founding of the Turkish republic went on in defiance of a government ban. The celebration of the founding of the Turkish republic has in the past few years become a symbol of the divide between Prime Minister Recep Erdogan’s elected, Islamic-leaning government and its opponents who fear the country’s secular traditions are in danger. The Ankara governor’s office last week denied authorization for the march, citing security reasons, and declared the gathering illegal. Challenging the ban, tens of thousands of people assembled in the old part of Ankara, near the building housing Turkey’s first parliament, to march to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the secular republic 89 years ago after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire (29 Oct 2012)’.

The pro-government daily Today’s Zaman reports that ‘[f]or the first time, Republic Day, which marks the foundation of the Turkish Republic on October 29, 1923, was celebrated at two separate events in Ankara, clearly indicating the divide between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and opposition groups, including main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) as well as some minor leftist parties. Official celebrations went ahead as planned in the Turkish capital, while the rally, organized by the opposition groups but banned by the Ankara Governor’s Office citing security reasons, saw some tense moments between protestors and the riot police. The opposition criticized the government for failing to pay due respect to a national holiday, and not respecting the values of the Republic. The government dismissed those claims, saying that the ban was imposed after intelligence indicated that some provocations might take place during a rally. The government added that everyone is welcome at the official celebration. The official event took place at the Atatürk Cultural Center following a ceremony at Atatürk’s mauseloum (Anıtkabir), and was attended by high-level state officials, military commanders and representatives of some political parties, including Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the CHP. The wife of the President Abdullah Gül, Hayrünnisa Gül, who wears a headscarf, also attended the official celebrations as a member of the official delegation for the first time. The president signed the Anıtkabir Special Register, writing: “Great Atatürk, we are celebrating the 89th anniversary of the republic you founded with great enthusiasm. We stand before you with the pride of a country that is improving its democracy, protecting human rights and freedoms, strengthening its economy and maintaining reforms. We are trying our best to surpass the level of contemporary civilization, to maintain the basic values of our republic . . . We, as a nation, bow before you with respect on this Republic Day and thank you. May you rest in peace.” After the ceremony in Anıtkabir, President Gül received greetings and congratulatory messages at the Çankaya presidential palace, a historic first, since this has traditionally taken place in Parliament’.[1]

The piece in Today’s Zaman continues by indicating that the ‘alternative, unofficial celebration was organized by a group of more than 30 civil society organizations led by the Youth Union of Turkey (TGB), known for their ideological proximity to the Workers’ Party (İP), in Ulus Square. The TGB is also known for its pro-Assad stance in Turkey and was one of the organizers of a conference in August held in the border province of Hatay to show solidarity for the Syrian government in its attempts to crush the 19-month-old uprising in Syria. A group of nearly 20 thousand people gathered at the rally, in defiance of a ban imposed by the Ankara Governor’s Office on the grounds that “some groups may seek to incite anarchy in the country” in front of the first parliament building which served as the base for Parliament during the Turkey’s struggle for independence. Groups arriving in buses from other cities to join the rally were initially stopped by the police at checkpoints around Ankara, but following mediation by some CHP deputies, the buses were allowed into the city. As they had previously announced, the demonstrators, including the CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu and some CHP deputies, wanted to march to Atatürk’s mausoleum to pay their respects. Initially, the police didn’t allow the rally participants to march in that direction, and used tear gas and water cannons to try to break up the demonstration. After about half an hour, however, the police removed the barricades and allowed protestors to continue on to Anıtkabir. “We are faced with a government which tries to prevent people from celebrating their holiday,” Kılıçdaroğlu told the Anatolia News Agency. “This is a shame for Turkey” he added, criticizing the government for being disconnected from the people. On Monday evening, President Abdullah Gül will give a reception at the Çankaya Presidential Palace celebrating the foundation of the Republic, but the CHP leader has already announced that he will not attend. Instead, Kılıçdaroğlu will fly to İstanbul to join the Republic Day march to be held in Kadıköy’.[2]

[1] “Republic Day celebrations held amid controversy” Today’s Zaman (29 Oct 2012). http://www.todayszaman.com/news-296479-republic-day-celebrations-held-amid-controversy.html.

[2] “Republic Day celebrations held amid controversy”.


Comments on: "Turkey: Day of the Republic 2012" (1)

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